The Gate’s original branch in Hammersmith has a reputation as one of London’s best vegetarian restaurants. I had been meaning to try it out for a while, but had never quite made it that far West of centre of a meal time, so I was very pleased to get a chance to visit their newer, Islington outpost for lunch before a matinee performance at Sadler’s Wells one Sunday. First impressions were good – the restaurant is spacious and airy, with clean white walls and high ceilings, dark wood floors and a pleasantly relaxed ambiance. At 12.30pm on Sunday, the place was bustling, with around two thirds of the tables already taken and I was pleased to have booked ahead.
My dining partner and I had checked out their menu online before our visit and were already salivating at the thought of such original and tempting dishes as Aubergine Schnitzel, or Beetroot Ravioli, which I thought would also make interesting fodder for my next restaurant review. We were therefore more than a little disappointed to be told, when seated, that it was only the Weekend Brunch menu that was available on weekend lunch times. I had spotted this menu online, and noticed that it was offered from 10am to 3pm at weekends, but there was no indication on The Gate’s website that it was the only menu on offer between those times.
Service started well enough – the waiter who showed us to our table was friendly and welcoming, and we were given just the right amount of time to peruse the menu before he came back to take our order. But it quickly went downhill from there, with our food taking a good half hour to make its way out of the kitchen, and the staff seeming blind to our attempts to catch their eye once our initial order was taken.
The Weekend Brunch menu is divided into “smaller” and “larger” dishes and is generally quite breakfast-y in character. My dining partner had decided to go on a bit of a health kick and opted for two “smaller” dishes – greek yoghurt with fruit compote, and a fresh fruit platter. I, on the other hand, was feeling quite hungry, so went for a “larger” quesadilla – described as “a flour tortilla filled with mature cheddar & grilled vegetables, served with salad, guacamole & salsa”. The tortilla was lovely and thin with delectably crispy edges and the vegetables were lightly grilled so that they retained a satisfying crunch in terms of texture, but there were far too few of them for my liking. There was also a distinct lack of mature cheddar – I was hard pressed to find any cheese at all, and what little there was could only have been described as mild in flavour. The salsa was pleasantly tangy, with a good balance of sweet tomato and slightly piquant chilli, but with barely a tablespoon of it on my plate, I struggled to make it last long enough to accompany every bite of my (actually rather small) quesadilla. The portion of guacamole was equally stingy, but I didn’t mind that so much since it tasted more like the gloopy stuff you get in bottles at the supermarket than anything made with fresh avocados. The salad was a nice enough mix of leaves, which included a couple of sprigs of rocket and some baby spinach but, again, there just wasn’t enough of it for the dish to be described as “larger”.
My dining partner’s greek yoghurt came with fresh berries, rather than the fruit compote she had ordered, but she tucked in anyway and described it as deliciously creamy, with the berries giving it a pleasantly tart bite. Alas, the other part of her order was nowhere to be seen. When we eventually succeeded in flagging down a waiter, my dining partner reminded him of the missing fruit platter. He dashed away, muttering something about compote. A few minutes later, he reappeared bearing a small bowl of mixed dried fruit, proudly topped with a perfectly formed ball of ice-cream. He dashed straight off again before we could say that this was the wrong dish, and it took several minutes before we managed to catch another waiter’s eye and explain the issue. Our original waiter then returned, and explained that he had thought the order was for yoghurt with fresh fruit, plus a bowl of compote (which was actually a dessert). He was very apologetic, and offered to bring the fruit platter over but by this time my dining partner had long since finished her yoghurt, and I had just about polished off my quesadilla, so my dining partner decided just to forego her fruit.
Drinks-wise, The Gate offers a fairly broad wine list, but it didn’t quite feel right to have wine with what was essentially breakfast food. My dining partner had a coffee, while I opted for one of The Gate’s fresh pressed juices – carrot, apple and ginger. I do have to give credit where credit is due, and the juice was actually the highlight of my meal, with a perfect balance between the sharpness of the apple, slightly bitter sweetness of the carrot and fiery heat from the ginger, and just about the best consistency of any juice I’ve ever had – it didn’t separate like fresh pressed juices tend to, and was satisfyingly thick without being cloying. After our food, my dining partner and I both enjoyed a fresh mint tea – brilliantly green, this was a pleasingly refreshing end to our otherwise unimpressive meal.
As for prices, £7.50 seemed a little steep for my not so large “larger” dish, but £3.50 for greek yoghurt is no more than one would expect for a central London brunch. And with a “larger” dish, a juice and a generous pot of tea coming to £13 including service, the total for a brunch shouldn’t be too painful. I had had high expectations for my trip to The Gate and, while the food was not unpleasant, with patchy service, small portions, and the surprise unavailability of the full menu, my overall feeling was one of disappointment. Final score for The Gate? A distinctly mediocre two Forks-Up.The Gate 370 St John Street London EC1V 4NN T: 020 7278 5483